Skip to content
Social Security Online
Electronic Fact Sheet
Publications Home
SSA logo: link to Social Security Online home

International Students And Social Security Numbers

SSA Publication No. 05-10181, December 2007, [View .pdf] Get Accessible Adobe Acrobat Reader , (En Español)

Are you temporarily in the United States to attend a college, language, vocational or nonacademic school with a nonimmigrant F-1, M-1 or J-1 student classification? Your school may ask you for your Social Security number. Some colleges and schools use Social Security numbers as student identification numbers. If you do not have a Social Security number, the college or school should be able to give you another identification number.

Social Security numbers are generally assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. Social Security numbers are used to report your wages to the government and to determine eligibility for Social Security benefits. Social Security will not assign you a number just to enroll in a college or school.




What do I have to do to work in the United States?  Skip factsheet links
How to apply for a Social Security number
Do I need a Social Security number before I start working?

Contacting Social Security



What do I have to do to work in the United States?

If you want to get a job on campus, you should contact your designated school official for international students. This official can tell you if you are eligible to work on campus and give you information about available jobs. Also, your school may approve certain limited off-campus employment, as permitted under Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations. If your school has authorized you to work either on or off campus, and you meet Social Security’s eligibility requirements described in the next section, you can get a Social Security number.

[Back to top]


How do I apply for a Social Security number

In general, only noncitizens who have permission to work from DHS can apply for a Social Security number. We suggest you wait until you are in the United States for at least 10 days before you apply for a Social Security number. Also, you should report to your school prior to applying for a number. Taking these actions will ensure we can verify your immigration status with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

To apply for a Social Security number:

  • Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5); and
  • Show us original documents proving your:
    • Immigration status;
    • Work eligibility;
    • Age; and
    • Identity.
  • Take your completed application and original documents to your local Social Security office.

Immigration status

To prove your immigration status, you must show us the current U.S. immigration document, I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, issued to you when you arrived in the United States. If you are an F-1 or M-1 student, you also must show us your I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. If you are a J-1 exchange visitor, you must show us your DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status.

Work eligibility

If you are an F-1 student and eligible to work on campus, you must provide a letter from your designated school official that:

  • Identifies you;
  • Confirms your current school status; and
  • Identifies your employer and the type of work you are, or will be, doing.

We also need to see evidence of that employment, such as a recent pay slip or a letter from your employer. Your supervisor must sign and date the employment letter. This letter must describe:

  • Your job;
  • Your employment start date;
  • The number of hours you are, or will be, working; and
  • Your supervisor’s name and telephone number.

If you are an F-1 student authorized to work in curricular practical training (CPT), you must provide us your Form I-20 with the employment page (page 3) completed and signed by your school’s designated official.

If you are an F-1 or M-1 student and have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD Form I-766 or I-688B) from DHS, you must present it.

If you are a J-1 student, you must provide a letter from your sponsor. The letter should be on sponsor letterhead with an original signature that authorizes your employment.

We cannot process your application if:

  • Your on-campus or CPT work begins more than 30 days from your application date; or
  • The employment start date on your EAD Form I-766 or I-688B is a future date.


You must present your birth certificate if you have it or can easily obtain it. If not, we can consider other documents, such as your passport or a document issued by DHS, to prove your age.


We can accept only certain documents as proof of identity. An acceptable document must be current (not expired) and show your name, identifying information and preferably a recent photograph. Social Security will ask to see your current U.S. immigration documents. Acceptable immigration documents include your:

  • Form I-551 (includes machine-readable immigrant visa with your unexpired foreign passport);
  • I-94 with your unexpired foreign passport; or
  • Work permit card from DHS (I-766 or I-688B).
All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. We also cannot accept a receipt showing you applied for the document. We may use one document for two purposes. For example, we may use your DHS work permit as proof of both work eligibility and identity. However, you must provide at least two separate documents.


[Back to top]


Do I need a Social Security number before I start working?

We do not require you to have a Social Security number before you start work. However, the Internal Revenue Service requires employers to report wages using a Social Security number. While you wait for your Social Security number, your employer can use a letter from us stating that you applied for a number. Your employer may use your immigration documents as proof of your authorization to work in the United States. Employers can find more information on the Internet at

[Back to top]


Contacting Social Security

Our website is a valuable resource for information about all of Social Security’s programs. There are a number of things you can do online.

In addition to using our website, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. We can provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. (You can use our automated response system to tell us a new address or request a replacement Medicare card.) If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

We treat all calls confidentially. We also want to make sure you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some telephone calls.


[Back to top]

 Link to U.S. Government portal Privacy Policy | Website Policies & Other Important Information | Site Map
Need Larger Text?